Scorched earth policy

As part of his mentoring me, Teddy Locsin once gave me a stack of books, including that famous work by Montesquieu known as The Spirit of the Laws. I was given the book in 1995, told to read it, and found it invaluable during the time of troubles of Joseph Estrada. The other day, spotting it on a shelf, I idly leafed through it and revisited the passages I’d underlined in the past. One of them provided the focus for my column today. Scorched Earth Governance.

My view is that the President is showing weak leadership, and that by nature she is a weak leader, though she likes to view herself as a strong one. Billy Esposo seems to be analyzing things and arriving at a similar conclusion. He says the priorities of the President are three:

1. Rally the morale of her troops in order to stop the erosion of her support base. By troops, I mean both the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who are still loyal to her as well as her political supporters. She knows only too well how disintegration of support had led to the fall of Marcos and Estrada. To survive the political jungle, one must keep one’s support base intact – let it crumble and you fall into the abyss.
2. Demoralize the forces of the opposition. By opposition, I do not just refer to the pathetic political opposition parties who lost the respect of the middle class when they rallied behind an unproven movie actor – Fernando Poe, Jr. I refer to the public at large, the close to 80% who think that Ms Arroyo stole the 2004 elections and now want her to vacate the presidency.
3. Discourage key sectors and power players, notably the military, from challenging her continued stay in office. The AFP and the US are examples of power blocks who are supposed to be non-aligned in these political struggles. But as we saw with the 1986 People Power Revolt, both were key players that tilted the outcome in favor of Cory Aquino.

Here are three versions of the same event involving the fallout from the same controversial event: The Manila Standard-Today says the Palace is unapologetic about hosing-down protesters; the Philippine Daily Inquirer says a fight between the bishops and the President is brewing; the Manila Times takes a similar tack; and for opposite poles on the same issue, contrast the take of the Daily Tribune and that of Standard-Today columnist Jojo Robles to see how the same issue is handled by opposing camps. The Sun-Star reports that the Palace denies it’s making a list -or checking it twice- of journalists who have been naughty or nice.

The punditocracy today has Fr. Joaquin Bernas ruefully admitting that he and fellow Constitutional Commission delegates must have been napping when they retained a Marcos-era provision allowing the President to take over businesses (apropos of the ongoing debate about the scope of the President’s powers, PCIJ reproduces a helpful summary of the President’s emergency and other powers) ; apropos of the rallies, Conrado de Quiros takes aim at the President, asking where she was when people actually did something during Edsa 2; Random Jottings cheekily says the “wet look” is now a political statement. And there’s an amusing column by Efren Danao on the antics of congressmen and assemblymen.

In the blogosphere, there has been much rejoicing over the discovery that Jessica Zafra has a blog (hat tip to Jove). Newsstand takes a dim view of Teofisto Guingona III; Paeng took a dim view of his parish priest and walked out of mass when the priest began defending the government’s policy of calibrated, preemptive response during the sermon (my mother told me that on the other hand, in his TV mass, Bishop Teodoro Bacani took a dig at the government, while reflecting on the same Gospel text as the priest that offended Paeng); Edwin Lacierda takes a dim view of the government’s rally policy and suggests how it can be challenged in court; News Boy, after a long hiatus, takes a dim view of those who take a dim view of the loyalty of the military and most of all, who have a dim view of the Palace’s intentions; Go Figure examines why consumers seem to have so little power; Belmont Club as an interesting entry on the referendum to ratify the Iraqi Constitution; Newsroom Barkada notes the World Health Organization warns of a possible bird flu pandemic.

The blogger-analysist have meaty entries: Philippine Commentary believes that there are various forces that are in a position to exercise a sort of veto power over the President. He identifies the forces as: former president Fidel Ramos, the Catholic bishops, and… well, to be announced he says, hinting the other veto-holders are the Americans and the Philippine military. He predicts that the mailed fist having failed to a certain extent, the President will try to unleash yet another charm offensive. Ricky Carandang muses on the roots of the country’s problems, and decides it’s not poverty per se, but rather, a fundamental lack of trust, between sectors and the public and the government:

I believe that before we can talk about models for sustainable economic development, we must first build a just society that everyone can feel they have a stake in. Before we can seriously consider charter change we Filipinos must first prove that we can trust each other. Otherwise every ten year economic plan that any government thinks of will fail and every effort to revise the political system will be viewed by the people as yet another betrayal of their aspirations.

Finally, Torn & Frayed laments the impending debut of a musical on Imelda Marcos.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

8 thoughts on “Scorched earth policy

  1. Good evening! I didn’t mean to be mysterious about the remark today on the US and the Philippine Military in my post. And the concept that certain forces have a “veto power” over what the President can or can’t do, is not even original with me. It has been discussed by others including Wretchard at the Belmont Club (and even Billy Esposo). Used to calculate something called “the tipping point” of a failing regime.

    Here, it has to do with the long term US relationship with the Philippine military that results in a kind of tacit understanding and active consultation on what the US would or would not back them up on if they got into trouble. Suppose for example that someone has flipped their wig in Malacanang, and orders a massacre of the crowd at the next big protest rally by a contingent of heavily armed Marines, followed by martial law. Though the US would not question the authority to give or accept the order, they might signal disagreement with it by indicating that they could not support the military in the aftermath of their decision, politically and logistically. Being by nature practical men, no matter what orders come through from the Palace, if the Philippine Military knows they are going to run out of bullets 3 days into some foolhardy operation coz the US wont bail them out, then they won’t execute the orders at all!

    So the US and the Philippine Military exercise one of the “vetos”. FVR and the CBCP also hold veto powers, politically and socially, as it were.

    Of course Wretchard is less knowledgeable than present company in respect to the internal stakeholders. But he’s kind of a Mr. Spock and likes to make function-theoretic models of dynamic political situations–that’s the result of his training in applied math from Case Western Reserve University and the Harvard Kennedy School of Govt. I think Billy Esposo is similarly analytical, and interesting.

    I just think the Palace has got to stand down and lose this present game of chicken with the opposition (in your broader sense of the term) — so they can figure out how to survive at least until Christmas.

    The US isn’t gonna turn their back on her now, but the signals are pretty clear, they aren’t gonna do much of anything if the Filipinos decide to solve their problem with GMA peaceably even if forcefully. But they are stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan to back any major “night of the long knives” action here.

    The biggest problem is gonna be the Bishops, for sure, because of the upcoming leadership change, the events of last week, and the “creeping outrage” as the grassroots movement grows. Images of nuns signing protest banners and vice presidents being roughed up (water can hurt!) all add up to trouble.

    Here is my basic conjecture: ANY of the three veto holders could actually tip the regime over at any time.

  2. What possibly would be the strategic importance of the Phils to the US at the moment? I can not seem to understand why some people would even consider the US as a tipping factor when the US cannot even give any generous tip. The only player that matters in the entire scheme of things are the PEOPLE and if Hello GArci lang they will not move. All those people fighting GMA are very very bad salesmen they dont even seem to understand marketing. They only succeeded in making themselves look more unacceptable than GMA..and yet they walk around blaming the citizenry of apathy when the real reason is they simply could not sell their ideas ,,albeit a lot of them walk in this earth they dont even know they are stupid. Somebody should tell them that when the singer cant sing they should be selfless enough to accept their limitation and send somebody who can connect instead and if there is no one they should quit and regroup and wait for another opportune time instead of wasting whatever is left of their capital.

  3. i was browsing the news earlier this morning and i saw a crawl item on the ANC ticker that the military will not allow another martial law (something retrograde as it will allow them more abilities of rule and suppression much less additional responsibilities)…another news was the former VP’s reaction to the dispersal of the so-called SAN SEBASTIAN BACK-ALLEY MOVEMENT (incidentally i was at the moment having my snack at the same Wendy’s Resto on the site at that fateful time and saw all the action…luckily shaking the hands of the “wet” Sen Jamby)…the Teo was pissed they got “served” and bathed during the “prusisyon”…it was overkill with a water gun and got their spirits sulked but unnerved…bakit daw yung por-admin rallies hindi naman nagaganun considering they have the same foundation and concept…i though to myself…SEMANTICS my dear politico…ano sa tingin mo kuya manolo!


    reading the title i was amused…naalala ko tulog yung dating tank-to-tank game na SCORCHED EARTH where it was domination of the opposition no matter what…

  4. Jay.
    I don’t know of a pro administration rally?I know that the leftist are dominating the rally scene & the air waves.
    I think martial talk is a waist of time.One thing sure PGMA’s “best friends” are hopeing for it to happen.
    I think it’s enough to enforce the laws that already exist.
    I think what happend last Friday is a lesson to those who mix w/ the wrong company.
    It shows what happens when religion is exploited for selfish reason!
    I think we must not over dramatized water canon style despersal as being an over kill.
    Better water on the streets than blood % tear gas in thee air.
    I think those “wet clowns” just wanted to create a scene.
    The bottom line is there are Freedom parks for demonstraions
    But if you wanna make it to the evening news, go to mendiola.
    I support the administration in being firm.
    Why can’t they wait for the SC ruling?
    Why the haste?
    Waht are their real intesions?

  5. emilie, yes i agree w/u that they are terrible salesmen!
    but what they are really tring to do is to create an enviorment of confussion.they are “trying so hard” to create scenarios that will provoke violence.
    the latest thing is to create a rift between the church & the state.
    I think gingona & his gang are really most irresponsible,that is saying it kindly!
    I think the act of challenging the law is most childish!
    It’s sad that media is more concerned w/ business & just happens to focus on the side of the opposition.
    I think that the law is the same for everyboby.
    What you wear or whatever your title is must not be used to cover true selfish intensions.
    Was not what happened last Friday going against the comandment that says not to use the name of God in vain?
    What did the “sort of bishops” want to prove,that they converted Saturr Ocampo & his leftist gang to God’s side?
    I can’t wait for the next “hyporital” line the CBCP will come out w/!!!!!
    Gingona should listen to his doctor’s advise first hehehehe

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